Don’t believe Duke Energy when it says it wants to set the record straight on SB559

Over this past rainy weekend, an opinion piece in the Raleigh News & Observer caught my eye because its title contained the words Duke Energy and SB559. Its author, Mr. Stephen de May, president of Duke Energy North Carolina, used some language and made some claims which chiefly amount to “hey, we’re Duke Energy and we know better than you; stop picking on us ‘cause we do this for you.” Despite Duke’s slick word crafting, which has given us many fine examples of doublespeak, an Orwellian conflation, Duke is no victim here nor is it benevolent.

I’m not sympathetic, given that such claims come from a monopoly corporation with captive customers, that continuously rakes in billions in revenue, hasn’t paid income taxes in more than a decade, has received massive government handouts to prop up its dying business model, and routinely doles out hefty executive salaries (1)… hold on while I catch my breath…. and has left us with a big mess that our children have to face including massive environmental desecration to land, water, sky, public health, and a “hot house earth.”(2) Duke will continue to do this if it continues to get its way with legislation that protects its lucrative monopoly. By its admission, Duke is only aiming for 8% clean energy by 2032 while other states leave us in the dust.

AIRE typically stays out of direct policy engagement but we have to weigh in on this particular policy assault because we need a very different policy emphasis for the energy system we work toward– distributed generation, community-owned renewable energy, and energy democracy. We cannot allow the incumbent corporate utilities (Duke and others) to get away with maneuvers like SB559, which are designed as corporate welfare, further subvert democratic energy possibilities, and lock in deadly energy systems that indeed put us one step closer to climate catastrophe.

SB559 is the wrong way.

Here are some of Duke’s (3) key phrases and half-statements in the opinion piece and my commentary:

* Duke aims the label of “special interest” at its critics (i.e. those opposing SB559). The special interest to which Duke refers in this case is the “public interest,” something Duke doesn’t care about. Defending a “last century energy model” at all cost and corporate greed motivate Duke. When a giant corporation resorts to marginalizing its critics for asserting informed democratic voices, we’re in trouble. Duke is the poster child of special interest, thus its name-calling rings hollow.

* In the same breath, Duke levels the claim that these “special interests” are “intentionally misleading the public” but that’s not the role of authentic grassroots advocacy. That’s what Duke’s greenwashing does– intentionally mislead. So, let’s ask how much Duke spends to bamboozle the public, hiding and spinning essential truths about excessive profit motives or the threats its business model poses to humanity? A lot. Duke is the pot calling the kettle black.

* Duke uses the word “noise” in the pejorative to throw shade on what is in reality fair critique. Name calling seems to be such a weak last resort these days.

* Duke claims that “storm threats continue to grow” and indeed, this is an understatement. However, it’s dishonest not to finish the equation, so I will: Storm threats continue to grow, “and Duke has contributed to that grim reality and has gotten very rich doing it! Now we intend to extract even more profit.” Any real sense of justice would ask why should the public pay for Duke’s corporate negligence, and, with the increasing volume of good science gathering daily, maybe stronger language is warranted– criminal negligence and immoral greed?

* Duke asks us to rely on the utilities commission to decide what “costs are fair and reasonable to share with customers.” Why would Duke use the word “share” here when it really wants to “charge” customers for something. Fair and reasonable? Why doesn’t Duke “share” its huge profits with the public? Give the public a dividend instead of continually raising rates for ever increasing profits and executive compensation.

* Duke claims to be “very transparent” in what it views as necessary spending on the grid and profits from it. But “transparent” is a strategically placed word that is meant to imply something other than its demand. The real problem though with it is that Duke’s claim of “need” here is very contestable. More fossil fuel plants and pipelines are not needed if clean energy paths are followed.

* Grid improvement = lock-in for fossil fuel corporate malfeasance and profit extraction, big and undemocratic energy, and climate catastrophe. Don’t let the word “improvement” fool you; It’s NOT an improvement and it’s NOT what we need. Improvement in Duke’s usage is code for more corporate usury and domination of energy policy.

What Duke is asking for isn’t a minor little tweak of utilities commission procedure or methodology; it’s a giant pandora’s box. We’re discussing the legislation here but where it will play out is at the utilities commission, whose technical proceedings tend to obfusticate, confuse and generally bore the public, thus making the processes for rate making inaccessible and highly illegible to the public. The methodologies used here are seemingly sophisticated that only “experts” know, are incapable of rendering important philosophical and moral accuracy, and tend to be inadequate for our times. New energy imaginations like AIRE’s cannot concede this space.

I’ve met some very nice folks who work at Duke Energy, but it’s not about individuals. Rather, it’s the culture and motives of the corporation, and the way it throws its political weight around that stir my ire. Ditto for the entirety of the investor-owned utility world where profit at any expense warps the mind, especially nowadays. There is a better way but they are determined to keep on this WRONG WAY path.

We support the position of Energy Justice NC. Every citizen should too.

1. Also see Money. Taxpayers gave an astounding $647 million to Duke in 2018, on top of a $0 tax bill.
2. Here’s the “Hot House” paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but for those unconvinced, take a look at Forbes (Climate Change Could Kill Off Clouds And Return Us To A ‘Hothouse Earth’).
3. I’ll just say “Duke” here so as not to pick on Mr. de May personally.

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